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Canned lion hunting in South Africa - who is challenging the trade?


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A few days ago Chris Mercer of the Campaign against Canned Hunting re-visited a ruling by the South African Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) that gave the go-ahead for lion breeders to conduct business as usual. The South African Predator Breeder’s Association (SAPBA) appealed because they had lost a case in the High Court against the then Minister of Environment Marthinus van Schalkwyk – who tried to impose a 24-month re-wilding rule on any lion destined for a trophy hunt. 

Chris Mercer correctly points out that the SCA, of their own volition (ex mero motu in legalese), made a decision that since captive lion breeding (and thereby their trophy hunting) was a “closed system” that had nothing to do with conservation, the Minister of Environment had no jurisdiction. Lions in captivity were like farm animals, and therefore they did not need to be “re-wilded” as they were never wild in the first place. 

So the lion breeding and canned hunting could go ahead according to the South African court. 

However, it is surprising that nobody in South Africa with legal standing has taken up the many issues of canned lion hunting that are begging to be challenged. Just because the Minister of Environment was judged not to have jurisdiction, it does not mean, ipso facto, that nobody else can challenge the canned hunting business on a diversity of issues.

Revisiting the original ruling by the High Court that upheld the 24-month re-wildling order by the Minister, a number of very interesting comments were made by the Judge (J. van der Merwe) in his summation.

These included:

"•Although in all provinces permits are required for hunting of lions, there are material differences between the provisions and measures applicable in the provinces. In Mpumalanga, for instance, it is a requirement that the size of the area in which a lion may be hunted must be no less than 1000 hectares. Such provision is also applied in the North West province. In Gauteng this minimum area is 400 hectares, but that may be deviated from by permit. In the Free State only a minimum of 100 hectares is required. The rest of the provinces have no legislation in respect of minimum size of areas in which the hunt may take place. Only the Free State and North West provinces, where by far the greater portion of the industry is situated and operated, have self-sustaining provisions. In the Free State it is required that a lion must be free ranging for a period of three months before it may be hunted, whereas in the North West province this period is only 96 hours. It is clear therefore that there is no uniformity in this regard and that in some provinces it would be possible to hunt a lion bred in captivity virtually immediately after it had been released into whatever area is allowed by the permit.

•It is undisputed that the term “canned hunting” was coined by the international media to express disdain of the practice of hunting of lions that were bred and raised in captivity and are therefore dependent on humans for their livelihood and survival, shortly after they had been “released”, often in small enclosures.

•On 6 April 2005, in his budget speech in Parliament, the respondent [the Minister] however announced that he has appointed a panel of experts (“the panel”) to advise and report on both hunting in buffer zones and canned hunting of large predators. Individuals were appointed on the panel on the basis of their expertise in a range of areas that affect the hunting industry, including wildlife management, community involvement, transformation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

On 11 and 12 August 2005 the panel held public hearings …  The essence of [some of] these representations was that the hunting of captive bred lions should be allowed shortly after a lion has been released in an enclosure of at least 2 000 hectares. The main aspects put forward as justification for this stance were the earning of foreign revenue by the industry, the creation of job opportunities by it as well as the idea that captive breeding and hunting of lions is a conservation tool that relieves pressure on the selective hunting of wild lions.

•It was also said that the panel has been guided in its assessment of each issue placed before it by three broad sets of principles. The first set of principles relates to the sustainable use of wildlife, which seeks to ensure that any practices associated with hunting do not compromise the long-term survival and viability of a particular species or ecosystem. The second principle relates to the humane treatment of animals, as set out in the Animal Protection Act, and whether the outcome of any practice that affects a wild animal, planned or not, is considered an offence in terms of the Animal Protection Act. The third principle relates to ethical hunting and in particular the principle of fair chase which is the foundation of the professional hunting industry.

•The panel stated … economic considerations may never be used to condone or ignore practices that either compromise the country’s biodiversity, undermine the humane treatment of hunted animals, or that may taint the reputation of the hunting industry in the long run.

•The panel found that there is little evidence to demonstrate that much of the breeding of wildlife in intensive wildlife systems is motivated by conservation objectives. The panel …  found however that hunting could not contribute to biodiversity conservation objectives in an intensive wildlife production context and that that furthermore also compromises the principle of fair chase which is fundamental to any ethical, professional and recreational hunting industry.

•Regarding hunting practices the panel found that the practices of “put and take” hunting and canned hunting are unethical practices that both the relevant industry associations and the animal welfare groups are concerned about. The panel found that both practices are in contravention of the principles of humane treatment of animals and fair chase. “Put and take” was also found to be a threat to diversity conservation due to the risks posed when a wild animal from an intensive wildlife production unit is introduced to an extensive wildlife production unit. On these grounds the panel recommended that both these practices be prohibited and that mechanisms to enforce these prohibitions be identified.

The Panel recognises the role of captive breeding as a method to support the rehabilitation of species for conservation purposes, especially if free-roaming animals have to be captured or rehabilitated for whatever reason. However, captive breeding for the sole purpose of hunting has led to the abuse of the primary intention of captive breeding since the original intention was to conserve species rather than to hunt.

•The principle of fair chase is not compatible with the hunting of captive bred animals unless they have become self-sustaining on extensive wildlife production units. In general, the practice of hunting captive bred animals should be disallowed. 

•It is not disputed that the hunting of lions bred in captivity has damaged the reputation of the Republic of South Africa immensely. It is clear on the evidence and also not disputed that very many people all over the world find the notion of hunting a lion bred and raised in captivity, often by hand, and totally dependent on humans for its survival, abhorrent and repulsive. I find this view to be objectively reasonable and justifiable, to say the least. This is so even, or perhaps especially so, if the hunting of such animal takes place in the circumstances put forward on behalf of the applicants [the canned hunting breeders and operators] as the most humane, namely the following: 

“Working back from the actual date (day 0) of the hunt, the following time line is suggested:

* day -7: feed the lion a big meal (lions are ‘feast-and-famine’ eaters – after gorging themselves on a really big meal, they can go without a next meal for several days).

* day -5 or -4: the lion is darted and the immobilized animal put in a crate, transported to the property where it will be hunted and released. Make sure that several adequate water points are available for the lion.

* day 0: the lion is hunted (four or five days after being released and running free. It means that there is no further contact by the lion with humans since it does not require to be fed. The lion may be lucky during this time and catch something on its own to eat).”


Justice van der Merwe also dismissed the notion that imposing a 24-month re-wilding rule would cause financial ruin for the canned lion hunting breeders and operators, and ruled against the applicants in the original court case. 

To sum up, and despite the ruling on appeal that the Minister of Environment had no jurisdiction, the following main points were made during the original High Court ruling:

•Captive breeding for the sole purpose of hunting has led to the abuse of the primary intention of captive breeding;

•Economic considerations may never be used to condone or ignore practices that undermine the humane treatment of hunted animals;

•The practices of “put and take” hunting and canned hunting are unethical  and are in contravention of the principles of humane treatment of animals and fair chase;

•In general, the practice of hunting captive bred animals should be disallowed;

•The hunting of lions bred in captivity has damaged the reputation of the Republic of South Africa immensely. 

It would seem to me that these are sufficient grounds to challenge in court the practice of canned lion hunting again. The fact that nobody in South Africa has taken this up this challenge is puzzling – instead, canned lion breeding and hunting has become a growth industry as I mentioned in a previous blog and there could now be as many as 8,000 lions in cages feeding the industry. 

There are a variety of means by which this malicious business can be stopped, and we will work on those aspects like the international trade where we can make a difference. In the mean time we would hope that groups in South Africa would take up the challenge of taking the lion hunters and breeders to court based on the fact that the practice is unethical and by definition based on animal cruelty. 

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:06

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